Why Do Cats Lose Hair?

Is your feline friend a little less furry these days? Some hair loss, like shedding their winter coat, is normal. But if they lose a lot of hair, there might be a problem.

Do they constantly scratch or lick themselves? Cats groom themselves a lot (up to half of the time they’re awake). Too much can cause hair loss, skin sores, and infection. If your cat seems more interested in licking their fur than other activities like playing or eating, that’s a red flag.

Your cat could lose their fur because:

  • They were born with a harmless skin condition.
  • It’s a side effect of an easy-to-treat condition.
  • They are sick.

The Most Common Reasons

You’ll need to check with your vet to find out exactly what’s going on. In most cases, the cause isn’t serious.

It could be:

Allergies: They’re the top cause of hair loss. Like people, your cat can be allergic to food, insect bites, medicines, dust, or pollen. To ease the itch, they’ll lick their fur until there are bald spots. It’s simple to treat, but you might have to give them medicine for the rest of their life.

Parasites: Fleas, mites, lice, and ticks can make them scratch and lick, too, causing bald spots and even sores. Treatment is usually quick and easy. Ask your vet which medicine you should use.

Ringworm infection: No, it’s not a worm. It’s a fungal infection. And a scaly ring of missing hair is a sign. Your vet can tell you for sure and prescribe antifungal creams or ointments, medicated baths, or even oral meds..

Stress and anxiety: When cats are stressed and obsessively lick and scratch, they can lose hair. Vets call this “psychogenic alopecia.” Cats that have it tend to pick at their belly, sides, and legs. It’s most common in female purebreds with nervous personalities. Treat their wounds, and ask your vet if they need an antidepressant or changes in their environment, like putting up high perches or keeping dogs away.

Pain: Cats with arthritis may lick themselves at the site of the pain.

Rare Causes

Pure breeds, like Himalayans and Bengals, are more likely to have genes that cause hair loss. Others, like the Sphynx, are bred to be hairless.

It’s unlikely, but hair loss can be a symptom of an immune system problem, diabetes, an overactive thyroid, or cancer. Tell your vet all about your cat’s diet, behavior, and home to help pinpoint the cause.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 03, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Abitbol, M. Public Library of Science One, March 17, 2015.

Cornell Feline Health Center: “Cats That Lick Too Much.”

Favrot, C. Schweizer Archiv für Tierheilkunde, July 2014.

Credille, K. Veterinary Dermatology, December 2013.

Frymus, T. Journal of Feline Medical Surgery, July 2013.

Lobetti, R. Journal of Feline Medical Surgery, Nov. 18, 2014.

Ralph Womer, DVM, Village Veterinary Clinic, Auburn, AL.

Glen Puckett, DVM, Moore’s Mill Animal Hospital, Auburn, AL.

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